Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter Monday 2012

For no other reason than to satisfy my scholarly inclinations toward the Scriptures, I thought Easter Monday might be a good day to consider the resurrection stories in the canonical gospels.

Mark's gospel is the earliest of the four, and it includes no resurrection story at all. At least, most scholars now agree it ended merely with the empty tomb, and the "longer ending of Mark" was added later. This is Mark 16:1-8 (the "shorter" version):

6.1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 16.2And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 16.3And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" 16.4And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; --it was very large. 16.5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 16.6And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 16.7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." 16.8And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
This is the "longer" ending:

16.9Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 16.10She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 16.11But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 16.12After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 16.13And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 16.14Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 16.15And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16.16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 16.17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 16.18they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 16.19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 16.20And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.
There are notable parallels to Luke's narrative, especially the reference to appearing "in another form," but no real reference to a bodily resurrection. That the body is resurrected is implied by the empty tomb, but nothing in Mark's version, early or later, indicates what kind of body. It is not, in other words, a strictly human body. And the question is: why not?

Matthew is no more enlightening. There is little question, according to the Q hypothesis, that Matthew and Luke took their narratives from Mark and from the conjectured gospel Q (in German "Quelle," or "source"). There's also a conjectured passion narrative behind Mark, if you're interested. Again, what is interesting in Matthew is how much of what he offers sets up stories in the later gospels; and how much of what he offers, is so different from Mark's original ending, or even its later one:

28.1 Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre

28.2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. 28.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. 28.4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 28.5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 28.6 He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 28.7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." 28.8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 28.9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 28.10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

28.11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place

28.12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers 28.13 and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 28.14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 28.15 So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

28.16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them

28.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted

28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 28.20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Again, the body is missing; but note this time the women "took hold of his feet" and worshiped him. There's the curious insertion of the "cover story" about the disciples stealing the body, a rumor Matthew seems at pains to squelch some 50 to 70 years after the crucifixion. This is the first indication in the gospels that there are concerns with establishing the validity of this claim.

Luke follows shortly after Matthew, perhaps even contemporary with Matthew. His resurrection story embellishes the other two:

24.1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. 24.2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 24.3 but when they went in they did not find the body. 24.4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; 24.5 and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 24.6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 24.7 that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." 24.8 And they remembered his words, 24.9 and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 24.10 Now it was Mary Mag'dalene and Jo-an'na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; 24.11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

24.13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma'us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 24.14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 24.15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 24.16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 24.17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 24.18 Then one of them, named Cle'opas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 24.19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 24.20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 24.21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 24.22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 24.23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see." 24.25 And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 24.26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 24.27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 24.28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 24.29 but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. 24.30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 24.31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 24.32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" 24.33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 24.34 who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" 24.35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

24.36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. 24.37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 24.38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 24.39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." 24.40 24.41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 24.42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 24.43 and he took it and ate before them. 24.44 Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." 24.45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 24.46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 24.47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 24.48 You are witnesses of these things. 24.49 And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high."

24.50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 24.51 While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. 24.52 And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 24.53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
The stories get longer and longer as the event moves into the past. Again the empty tomb, again the heavenly messenger (though not identified as such here), and again a story much like Mark's: one so strange, who could believe it?

And then the curious tale of Emmaus, where Jesus appears among some followers (not, however, the 11 disciples) and they don't realize who he is until a gesture betrays him, until he breaks the bread ("this is my body, broken for you"),at which point he vanishes.


And then Jesus appears to the 11, and shows them his hands and feet, and eats cooked fish, to show he is not a geist, a spirit, a ghost. And this makes them witnesses of what the scriptures said; says Jesus. And yet it ends with the ascension, with Jesus "carried up into heaven" as they watch; an event meant to underline the election of Jesus to divine status, and to indicate that, like Elijah before him, Jesus was taken to God alive, not dead.

Finally comes John's gospel and, as usual, he goes on for more than a bit:

20.1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag'dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 20.2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 20.3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 20.4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 20.5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 20.6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 20.7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 20.8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 20.9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 20.10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

20.11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 20.12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 20.13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 20.14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 20.15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 20.16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-bo'ni!" (which means Teacher). 20.17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." 20.18 Mary Mag'dalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

20.19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20.20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 20.21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 20.22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 20.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 20.24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 20.25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."

20.26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." 20.27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 20.28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 20.29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." 20.30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 20.31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

21.1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tibe'ri-as; and he revealed himself in this way. 21.2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathan'a-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zeb'edee, and two others of his disciples were together. 21.3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. 21.4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 21.5 Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No." 21.6 He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. 21.7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. 21.8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 21.9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. 21.10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 21.11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 21.12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. 21.13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 21.14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21.15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 21.16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 21.17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 21.18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." 21.19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."

21.20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" 21.21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" 21.22 Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" 21.23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" 21.24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 21.25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Step back to Matthew a moment: "28.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted." Those who doubted now becomes a particular person, and his doubts become specific doubts. Thomas stands in for all those who question the veracity of the resurrection story in John's day (let the reader understand). His story means to nail down the bodily reality of the resurrection, and again all of the stories John tells emphasize that reality. At the same time, Jesus comes and goes like a ghost. Jesus tells Mary at the tomb "Do not touch me." He appears behind closed doors to the disciples, without knocking and getting the door opened to him first. He does this again to prove to Thomas that his body is physical, not merely spiritual; which just raises the paradox higher, rather than satisfying it. And, of course, John rewrites the Emmaus story by using familiar figures rather than a cast of unknowns, and by moving it to a fishing story from a trip to Emmaus (Emmaus? Where's that?) story. And this time, again, Jesus hangs around to eat, just to emphasize that he's not merely a ghost, a mere wisp of an idea, a fragment of wishful thinking by grief-stricken followers.

The gospels become more and more concerned, as time passes, with issues of veracity (if not verifiability, the obsession of this modern age). They start (or start to end) with an empty tomb, and end with a loquacious Christ giving Peter further directions over a meal of freshly caught fish. What they have to say about the resurrection is a marvelous grab-bag of stories that develop detail as they get further and further away from the event. And saying this doesn't disturb me or my faith confession in the least. Indeed, it fascinates me, as it reveals a very human effort to relate a very non-ordinary event. I like that it starts with Mark's final words (per the Scholar's Version): "Talk about terrified...." Fear and trembling is a good place to start a revelation. It is "at least as a signal or symptom, is something that has already taken place," something "prompted by a secret, a frightful mystery." Something that, for better or worse, changed the course of Western history.

Mysterium tremendum indeed.


  1. And, of course, there was no eye-witness to Jesus' actual resurrection, only the accounts of seeing him afterwards.

    It's quite interesting to read the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection in sequence. I don't think I've ever done it before.

  2. And, of course, there was no eye-witness to Jesus' actual resurrection, only the accounts of seeing him afterwards.

    To me, that's the best part.